To Darn at Wool House

Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!

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Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission

As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.

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Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.

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Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.

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Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.

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Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:

Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.

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Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.

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Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.

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A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

With many thanks to Campaign for Wool,  Howard Sullivan of Your Studio and Sue Craig, who runs Knitting the Map, for letting me use their pictures.

One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.

11 Replies to “To Darn at Wool House”

  1. Wow to that beautiful buttonhole….what a wonderful exhibition, sorry to have not been able to get to it.

  2. I too loved the Wool house and could have spent ages there. I did enjoy looking at everything, but for me, being a feltmaker myself, I loved the Claudy Jongstra wallhangings, and did you notice there was a beautiful shawl of hers hanging over a chair in the wool ‘bedroom’? Soft Merino wool on one side, tussah silk on the other, all in a natural undyed white. Let’s organise a group visit to some of her large installations!!
    Carol

  3. You say, “…[now] people get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.”

    That’s possible, but I think there might have been some pride involved as well. My paternal grandmother, born in the American MIdwest in 1887, often quoted the well-known saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

  4. I love sewing buttonholes by hand too! I worked at a museum for a while and my favorite thing about it was staring at antique hand stitching up close.

    But, I think you are right about people today finding darning much more relaxing than in the past. We are so lucky to live in an age when all the traditions of the past are available to us, it’s easier to research every alternative idea than at any previous time in history, and many of us have the luxury of choosing only the ideas and traditions which hold meaning for us.

  5. Wow! Busy man! I love this hand-stitching buttonhole. I have recently started making the buttonholes by hand again… it is so much better! and it doesn’t take so much time (depending how many you have to make of course).

  6. Hi Tom! I stumbled upon your blog via Mister Finch and I’m glad I did! I’m a self taught spinner and very new, self taught weaver (I even got so excited that I built my own rigid heddle loom from a photo of the Ashford one!!). I love your darning images, have been holding onto my beautiful hand knitted socks (by my great grandfather) to repair…. You’ve inspired me!
    Looking forward to following your blog adventures!
    I’ve pictures and the story of my loom on my blog if you feel like popping over for a look! (www.sammiam.wordpress.com)
    Cheers

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